The Hypnotist by Lars Kepler (2009)

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Swedish National Detective Inspector Joona Linda arrives at an icy public restroom outside of Stockholm to find a man brutally murdered. He soon learns the dead man’s entire family has also been slaughtered that same night. Hurrying to the scene in the family home, Joona finds an utterly horrific site — an entire family tortured and murdered — but he also finds the family’s teenage son is, miraculously, clinging to life.

The boy, Josef Ek, is rushed to the hospital in critical condition, in and out of a coma. Linda is desperate to interview the boy, who he knows can help them identify the murderer. Linda’s superiors believe the killings are over, payment for the father’s gambling debts. Joona Linda knows this is not a mob killing, this is a rage-filled attack aimed at Ek family…and he is almost certain he can catch the killer if he can just talk to the boy.

Enter Dr. Erik Bark, psychiatrist and expert on surviving severe trauma, called to Josef’s bedside and begged to help the police revive the boy so he can be questioned. Bark refuses, insisting there is no way; Linda insists there is a way…hypnosis. However, Dr. Eric Bark’s entire career — his entire life — was nearly ended by his research into hypnosis and he has been ordered never to perform it on a patient again. Joona Linda tells him of the murders and asks Bark to reconsider, tells him the lives of other members of the Ek family depend on what Josef tells them. So Dr. Bark agrees, Josef is hypnotized, and the police and doctors learn more than they could have anticipated from the beaten, tortured boy.

But they are not the only ones that learn something. Word of Dr. Bark’s hypnotism hits the press and a storm of controversy descends on his family. Bark’s former failures — as a doctor, as a husband, as a researcher — come back into focus and soon all manner of people are focusing their attention on Bark and his family.

Now Joona Linda must solve the increasingly terrifying mass murder case and now he must factor in dozens of suspects — all mentally ill — who have arisen from Dr. Eric Bark’s past to complicate the investigation.

An absolutely absorbing and terrifying tale that was impossible to put down! I cannot wait to read the next Lars Kepler book featuring DI Joona Linda; although I may wait a week or two, as this one gave me nightmares.

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In The Blood by Lisa Unger (2014)

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Lisa Unger has done it again, In the Blood is a terrifying, twisting thriller that delves deep into the psyche of its many, well-drawn characters. Unger present a story that raises questions about the role of mental illness and past trauma have in shaping a young life, and about whether or not all those who struggle can be saved or if some are born beyond saving.

Against all odds, Lana Granger has overcome a traumatic childhood to become college student who, with the help of good friends and trusted advisors, is about to successfully graduate. Lana seems normal to the outside world, but inside fights mightily to keep her past secret, even from those she loves the most. When she is hired to be a babysitter for a deeply troubled boy who struggles with a form of mental illness that makes him violent and deceptive, her own struggles as a child resurface. She is, in part, hopeful that her childhood experiences can allow her to help Luke and his mother; and partially terrified that he might be one of those kids who cannot be helped.

Immediately, Luke begins to challenge and manipulate Lana, drawing her into a series of dangerous games. Luke is obsessed with their town, The Hollows*, and its notorious reputation for being the site of several grisly murders. He devises a game (without his mother’s knowledge) for he and Lana to play, that has them looking into the people who were murdered and the places those crimes took place. What starts out as a creepy game turns much more sinister when Lana’s best friend goes missing.

Soon Lana has drawn the attention of the local police who suspect she in involved in her friend’s disappearance. Their probing into her past makes Lana feel unhinged and she begins taking greater and greater risks, both in her “games” with Luke and in her search for her friend.

In the Blood, delves deep into the lives of the mentally ill and their loved ones, shining light on the seemingly impossible task of treating and managing complex issues that, if left alone, can turn deadly. A truly outstanding book and a unique and thought-provoking story-line — impossible to put down.

*The Hollows is a town that is the setting to several of Lisa Unger’s thriller.

Ink and Bone by Lisa Unger (2016)

NOTE: This book takes place in the fictional town of The Hollows in upstate New York. Several other books by Lisa Unger also take place in The Hollows. Two of the characters in this book also appear in Unger’s “Jones Cooper” series. This book does not exactly fit into a series with these other works by the author, they are loosely connected to one another. Reading them in chronological order would be the best way to have the stories flow together, but Ink and Bone can be read alone as an independent novel.

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Despite its outward appearance as an idyllic small town in the mountains of upstate New York, The Hollows has dark elements — and dangerous people — lurking just out of sight.  The town seems to exert a deep pull over some of its residents, calling them back over and over or making it hard for some to leave. Finley Montgomery is one of those people. Raised by a mother who hated The Hollows so much she had fled as a teen and hardly ever returned, Finley has known her whole life that The Hollows reached out for her, demanding she to return.

However it is not the town’s pull that finally brings the 21-year-old to live with her grandmother in The Hollows, it is Finley’s desperate need to understand and learn to control her gifts. Like her grandmother, and many of her female ancestors, Finley is a psychic with a deep connection to the dead, missing, or those in grave danger. She needs her grandmother — a world famous psychic who has helped police solve many cases — to help her learn to control how disruptive these “visitors” are, but more importantly to help teach her to interpret what they need from her so she too can help them.

In recent years, two child abduction cases have happened on the outskirts of town: the police have been unable to solve either case or definitely link the two cases together. When the mother of one of the girls taken the previous year, Merri Gleason, returns to The Hollows to seek the help of a private investigator Jones Cooper (who works with Finley’s grandmother) she sets into motion a series of events that draw in Finley into the case as well.

Soon Finley cannot keep her “visitors” out of her head and she knows without a doubt that they are trying to lead her to Merri Gleason’s missing daughter. Young and untested, Finley joins forces with the PI to investigate the disappearance of Abbey Gleason; the abduction of a young family two years prior; and man who has gone missing just that week. Although she cannot explain how, Finley knows these cases are linked and that her ghostly visitors may be able to help her solve one — or all — of them.

Finley’s instincts and the investigative skills of the PI Cooper mean that almost immediately they make some progress in finding the missing children, but the horror’s they are about to unleash might be more than they can bear.

Eerie, thrilling, and utterly unique, Ink and Bone was impossible to put down. I was simultaneously terrified and entranced by Unger’s story. She was able to take the elements of a traditional PI thriller and inject a supernatural, paranormal energy that made the story extremely compelling. I highly recommend the book…and I hope that Finley makes an appearance in Unger’s next book.

The Tommyknockers by Stephen King (1987)

Western-novel writer Bobbi Anderson lives in rural Haven, Maine, where she spends most of her time alone, writing, hiking with her dog, with an occasional visit to her neighbor Jim. Jim “Gard” Gardner is an barely functioning alcoholic, failing poet, and anti-nuclear activist; he is also Bobbi’s sometimes lover.

One summer morning, Bobbi and her dog, Pete, are hiking in the woods outside her home when Bobbi stumbles across a metal object that she cannot identify, nor remove from the soil. Intrigued, Bobbi makes a cursory attempt to remove the object but finding it too heavy, and lodged too deep, and thinks to continue hiking and forgot about it. But she finds that she cannot. She is inexplicably drawn to dig the object up. She works for hours the first day, and then finds herself returning day after day, digging endlessly trying to retrieve — desperate to retrieve — the object and find out what it is.

The object has an immediate and hypnotic effect on Bobbi, and her obsession with it begins to take over Bobbi’s life. Despite the fact that bizarre and terrifying events begin happening once she discovers it, Bobbi cannot stop her excavation.

Three weeks after Bobbi’s discovery, “Gard” arrives back in Haven to find Bobbi a changed woman; nearly mad and physically almost dead from the efforts of her digging and other “projects” that have consumed her since finding the object. Bobbi reveals to Gard what she has found — what she calls The Tommyknockers — and he is stunned…not just by her discovery but by the way it has transformed her into someone almost unrecognizable.

The two must decide what they will do with the discovery: the revelation might change the world (if they can convince the world that the Tommyknockers are real) but it also might mean that the two of them would be locked up and interrogated for more information. And there are the fascinating projects that Bobbi has begun to build, things that seem as if they should not exist at all, and certainly not built by a writer with no previous technical skill; things that are of immense importance and value.

To keep it secret means they risk the unearthly pull the object has on them, with no one and nothing to dilute its effects. However it also means that whatever gifts or knowledge the Tommyknockers have to bestow upon the world will belong to just the two of them…at least for a while.

What will they choose? What will the Tommyknockers reveal? What risks are worth taking and what are Bobbi and Gard willing to give up of themselves in or to receive the Tommyknockers wisdom?

 

 

 

 

Final Girls by Riley Sager (2017)

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Ten years ago, Quincy Carpenter woke in a hospital and found that she had been initiated — unwillingly — into the most gruesome of sororities: she had become a Final Girl. A Final Girl was the name given to women who are the sole survivors of a mass murder.

Quincy was welcomed to the horrific club of women when she had escaped from a deranged killer who had brutally stabbed and killed five of her closet friends. Straight out of a horror flick; six college students had traveled to a secluded cabin in the woods to spend a fall weekend and an escapee from a local mental institution had attacked them, with only Quincy escaping with her life. Immediately, the media and many online “crime fan” groups were clamoring to add Quincy to the small group of infamous women who made up the Final Girls. Disgusted, Quincy refused to accept her Final Girl status and she rejects offers of help from the other Final Girls.

In the  intervening ten years, Quincy has painfully worked to forget the attack and rebuild her life. This has been eased — if that is possible — by the fact that she remembered very little of the actual attack. Quincy is shocked from the cocoon of a life she has created when she learns that a fellow Final Girl, Lisa — one who mentored many other young women going through similar trauma — has committed suicide. Suddenly, it becomes clear to Quincy that being a survivor of one horrible tragedy did not guarantee that you could survive all of life’s other heartaches. Quincy had looked up to Lisa and admired her fierce will to live; her suicide knocks Quincy off course.

Soon, Quincy is acting out, taking risks, and finding herself under the influence of people who might lead her into dangerous situations… or worse, deliver her back into her own worst nightmare.

This novel was scary, thrilling, well-written, and such great fun to read. I loved it, and think that despite the long, long list of thrillers I have read this summer, this is the one of the best.

The Hatching by Ezekiel Boone (2017)

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In several rural parts of the earth, a simultaneous hatching of a terrifying and fast-reproducing population of spiders has been awakened from deep within the earth. These insects are capable of devouring every human in their path and of spreading across the globe with little difficultly. How will the world respond to a threat they never could have imagined?

This supernatural thriller reads like a mash-up of Dan Brown novels and the movie Contagion: covering plot lines and introducing characters on six continents in a huge array of political, military, and scientific careers who all work in concert to identify the threat and how to stop it from causing global genocide.

Told through the viewpoint of several narrators, and many other smaller characters — as disparate as the President of the United States, a Marine, a doomsday prepper, entomologist, and FBI agent — the story of the Hatching, and the subsequent effort to contain it, unfolds. The phenomenon grows unchecked in the early days of the hatching; both because no one wants to believe this is possible and because the rural areas where it began were places no one (with the power to intervene) seemed cared about. When it disaster erupts in urban cities and happens on camera, the world begins to pay attention…and to realize their disbelief has put them at a huge disadvantage. The following action shows, in great detail, how the characters respond to the threat.

Despite its great plot line, the book remained a bit underwhelming.  Characters in the story — and there are many, many characters — are presented without too much depth, the author relying mostly on the fast moving, unsettling plot. At times his female and non-white characters — who are already somewhat poorly drawn — seem to devolve into caricatures of themselves (a female scientist who is also obsessed with sex; the young African American solider who joined Marines to avoid jail; a gay prepper who takes time to make cocktails) further emphasizing the weak character development. Overall readable, but not outstanding.

 

The Grownup by Gillian Flynn (2014)

This is a short blog post about a short story, written by Gillian Flynn of the bestseller Gone Girl and dedicated to George R.R. Martin, for whom she said “asked her to write him a story.”

In this unsettling short story, we meet a young con-woman who is looking to move up in the world, to give up street begging and get into a more legitimate grift. Enter Susan Burke, a desperate young mother who believes her house is haunted and her stepson deeply, perhaps homicidally, affected by its evil. Sensing a large score, our narrator agrees to cleanse the house and stop the terrifying events that are traumatizing the family.

The story gives a nod — quite literally, as it was named on page nineteen — to the undeniably wonderful classic horror story The Haunting of Hill House  and which I reviewed on this blog in October 2015, find it here http://wp.me/p6N6mT-15 .